Sri Lanka: Make hay while the sun shines

What is happening in Sri Lanka now?


by V.Vin Mahalingam

( January 2, 2017, Toronto, Sri Lanka Guardian) The political changes within the country and in the international political arena had compelled the new political leadership in Sri Lanka to adopt a broader outlook in its approach in terms of a national perspective.  As the saying goes, “Make hay while the sun shines” we should not miss this opportunity.

There are only two factions that are dominating the political stage, whether it is in the south or in the north. Among the Sinhalese, the national government that was chosen by the people to rule the country as opposed to those so called joint opposition front. Similarly, the situation in the north is no different, the Tamil National Alliance on one side and the defeated ones that are opposed to the TNA.

Those factions on both sides that are accepted by the people and in power in the north and south, are doing their best to lead the country on the path of economic progress, ethnic reconciliation and to uphold the rule of law. They want to be successful so that they can show their capability and credibility to the people and to the international community.

It is an arduous task because those thrown out of power in January 2015 are unable to take up the verdict of the people, and they are all hell bent to disrupt the peace dividend that the country is enjoying with the change of government.

Those in power are engaged in analysing various aspects, planning and executing them and are working with determination to bring about progress throughout the nation. Their tasks and responsibilities are enormous, varied and manifold.  Whereas those in the opposition are faced with an easy role, only role to disrupt and discredit those in power in the eyes of the people. It is only for the selfish goal of regaining power and nothing else.

The ruling coalition is working hard to introduce a new constitution with a fervent hope that various issues that have plagued the country for many decades could be resolved. This move is expected to be completed soon. Those who are opposed to these positive measures in the south and in north are all out to derail this process. Simply for the reason that if the government in power succeeds in its efforts, their political future is doomed forever. They are neither worried about the country’s future nor of the peoples’ progress.

Beware of Opponents’ Destructive Moves.

The joint opposition among the Sinhalese and its supporters entrenched in the present Good Governance’ are all out to disrupt the progressive measures of the Maithri – Ranil government. It is obvious that the government is unable to achieve fully what it wants to achieve due to the destructive activities of the joint opposition. Without understanding this fact, is it wise for us to find fault with the government for each and every minor issue? It will definitely lead to further disaster.

All those who had been defeated and in the political wilderness are all out to find ways and means to regain power. If, hopefully, all the efforts of the present government succeeds and bring about satisfactory resolution of at least some of the issues acceptable to both the Sinhalese and the Tamils, these disgruntled elements fear that it will be the end of their dream to capture power. Surprisingly, these power hungry elements, in order to achieve their goal, do not want a peaceful environment in the country. They want anti-government demonstrations and unrest in the country in order to topple the government of Maithri and Ranil.

These forces are engaged in all kinds of destructive tactics to draw a wedge in the cordial relationship between Maithri and Ranil. They are trying to bring about division and misunderstandings between the two major coalition partners, and also to whip up communal disharmony among the Sinhalese and Tamils by inciting racial clashes with a sinister motive of setting up a stage for ethnic violence. Also, they hope to make use of certain sections of the security forces for their selfish goals. Killing of the two Jaffna University students, and other similar instances are manifestations of this ugly motive.

Even by resorting to certain dirty tactics of polluting the minds of the innocent people by creating ‘Ava Group’ and covertly promoting the underworld gangs, these anti social elements are hoping to stage a come back to power. Both in the north as well as in the south, those groups that were totally rejected by the people, are now trying their dirty tactics to regain power. Their only worry is that if some progress is made by the ‘Good Governance’ leadership and people are benefited, that would be a serious set back for their ambition to capture power. Therefore,  these disgruntled elements are bent on creating all kinds of road blocks for the rulers. These manoeuvres are seen in the north as well as in the south.

Reconciliation

If we need to overcome this type of destructive forces, there should be considerable changes in the approach and outlook of the people and politicians, an overall change in every one’s mind set. Only a fundamental shift in every one’s thinking could lead the nation in the right direction.

Let us be broad minded. Thinking and acting in the selfish interest of myself and my ethnic people, the narrow minded self centred approach, should change. Be all inclusive, think in terms of the over all progress of the country, for the Sinhalese, Tamils and the Muslims. This kind of revolution in our approach is what we need and is beneficial for all.

It is obvious and cannot be disputed that Tamils had been subjected to enormous sufferings, discrimination and hardships. But at the same time, many Sinhalese too have suffered and have restraints. Therefore, it is prudent to think in terms of the interest of both the community, the Sinhalese and the Tamils.

While looking at the grave suffering of the Tamil people for the past 30 years or so, it is good to review the hardships of the Sinhalese too, may be slightly from a different angle. Some section of the Sinhalese are also subjected to discrimination, denied opportunities but fed with communal hatred for the selfish motive of their leaders. They are simply manipulated as political pawns by some of their power hungry leaders. If those Sinhalese are made to realize these negativity, their attitude towards the Tamils and their issues might change for the better.

This kind of approach could, hopefully, bring about meaningful changes among many Tamils as well as the Sinhalese, resulting in considerable benefits for both community and help to restore justice and peace. To begin this process of reconciliation, people with good heart from both sides or to begin with, from one of the communities should take the first step of this goodwill measure. If one community initiates, then definitely, response in the same direction will follow from the other community too, discarding the communal trend. If a hand of friendship is extended from one side, the other side too will response positively.

We need to analyze the political trend exhibited recently by certain Sinhala civic groups in the matter of Pugudutivu girl student Vidhya’s murder and that of the killing of the two Jaffna University students by the police. They are positive gestures from the south, towards the Tamil Community as such. These trends are quite encouraging.

What are we going to achieve by harboring communal hatred, with racial attacks and always blaming each other. We all are to be blamed for the communal divide? It doesn’t serve any useful purpose, but to fuel further the communal differences.

If one section of the nation thinks purely on communal lines, the other section also will react the same way, not otherwise. Let us dwell on this line of thinking deeply. Are we going to continue in the same line of communal thinking and be doomed for ever or would we like to change in the interest of the whole nation?

If one section thinks and acts on a communal line whipping up hatred bent on revenge, the other section too will follow the same destructive path. If one community harps on the approach that the others had cheated us, had let us down, and even now continue to do the same, and will do the same even in the future, are we so  naïve not intelligent enough to be cheated by others? If we are smart enough we should face these challenges intelligently and be victorious. We need not be hesitant to do this.

Definitely it is not the international community but the Sinhala and Tamil community should engage with each other to deal with these issues. It needs engagement domestically. International involvement and support are crucial for success. However, any meaningful solution should emanate from within, domestically.  Reconciliation should evolve from within the country, between the Sinhalese and Tamils. It cannot be imported. It is not a foreign solution at all.

No one community shall harbor the egoistic feeling that they are superior to others that they have descended directly from heaven and should not mix with others. This kind of attitude is senseless; doesn’t lead anywhere. All of us should develop the thinking that we all belong to the same humanity and we are all equals.

It is not correct to assess one whole community through some narrow minded individuals. Outright blame of the whole community is not  a proper judgement. There are always two sides of a coin, the positive and negative. An intelligent group of people should distinguish good from the bad, and work with those who are good, and make efforts to progress towards its goal. That is what meant by real political diplomacy. Generally, the people are not racial. They are made so by the power hungry politicians. Instead of blaming the government for having not done enough, if we adopt the approach of praising it for whatever measures it had undertaken, that could inspire the rulers to do more and more. We too could achieve our goals easily.

In the common interest of the people as a whole and that of the nation, good minded people on both sides should be very cautious and diligent so that they are not mislead and fall victims. Every one should use his common sense and be smart enough to follow the path of righteousness, a path that would lead the country towards a better future. Although the ‘Ezhuka  Thamil’ demonstration organized in Jaffna, not long ago,  was of good intention and was a very peaceful one, certain anti-government forces in the south had tried to give it a racial twist, attributing unwarranted motives of the organizers.

As a result of the negative propaganda of this demonstration in the south, the over all losers are the Tamil people only. Organizers of demonstrations need to weigh the pros and cons of their actions that may follow, before arriving at a major decision. No sensible leadership can afford to take measures or decisions purely on sentiments. Diplomacy should be the hall mark of any successful leadership. By adopting diplomatic manoeuvres and diligent approach, leaders will be able to outwit the opponents and win the rights of the people who are behind them with full of hopes for better future.

Go Ahead with Demonstrations in order to alleviate the fear on both sides:

We should follow a path of friendship, bringing all friendly forces from among the Sinhalese as well as the Tamils together, and adopt positive approaches, whatever feasible, to allay the fear on both sides of the ethnic divide. The Sinhala masses had been polluted with a deep rooted fear that the Island will be divided by the Tamils, and that there may be another violent armed struggle.  The Sinhalese are also concerned that the Tamils of the north will try to dominate them with the help of their Tamil brethren from the southern state of Tamil Nadu with a huge population.

On the other hand, Tamils are concerned that their demands for equality may not be granted, and that even if granted, it may be withdrawn later on. They are also worried that equal opportunities may be denied, and that the oppression and domination would continue, and their language, culture etc may continue to be decimated.

But at the same time, the stark reality is that these apprehensions are applicable to both sides. This trend of fear, distrust and hopelessness should cease in order to lead the country towards a better future, bringing about trust and hope among all sections of the people – Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.

Therefore, the need of the hour is meaningful discussions and seminars among people from different ethnic background in order to build up confidence and mutual understanding that could eventually lead to meaningful reconciliation. Having this noble goal in mind, demonstrations calling for unity, reconciliation, and peace also should be organized to rally the people for this purpose. Victory depends on our approach and attitude. We should adopt an approach of reiterating the multiethnic unity within a united nation of Sri Lanka, recognizing religious equality, racial harmony and peaceful co-existence. Let us organize demonstrations on these lines to mobilize the masses to come together in unison, discarding the partisan outlook that had devastated the country for many decades.

Constitutional Council 

The people of Sri Lanka are now blessed with a very rare opportunity through the Constitutional Council formed by the Maithri- Ranil’s Government. There is a positive aspect of the formation of this council in which elected representatives of the Tamil people are also participating. In the past, Tamils did not participate in the Constitution making process for a long time for various reasons. However, this is definitely a positive move.

This is a rare opportunity. Neither we can afford to miss it nor spoil it. As an analogy, with which Tamils are traditionally familiar, the ‘Pongal Pot’ is ready to yield sweet rice. Let us do our best to make the rice sufficient and sweeter. Is it good to break the pot before it is boiled and cooked fully? No, not at all.  Similarly, put aside the attitude of criticizing the outcome of the Constitution making before it takes a good shape. Let us learn to work together to make this process a success for the benefit of all.  Be patient; work in unison.

It is not a wrong judgment to trust that the new leadership, the diplomatic community and other interested parties are all well aware of our aspirations, even better than some of us. There is no need to impress upon them by organizing demonstrations on what we hope to achieve. If we think that there is a need to impress them, we are making ourselves a fool. Something positive will definitely be done through the present deliberations. But the big question is what kind of solution, to what extent and how soon? We could achieve the best of all through patience, diplomacy and by behaving intelligently, keeping the international community on our side. Remember, we are not strong enough anymore for aggressive measures.

Be Assured- we shall be Victorious

Any demand should not be just only for a certain section of the population. It should be for all people, for the benefit of the entire country. New as it is, this approach will inspire others also to become involved without any hesitation or concern. For example, instead of demanding that north and east of Sri Lanka should be merged into one administrative unit, we can demand to form 4 or 5 regional councils for the whole island. Again, if the term ‘Federalism’ is an anathema that hinders progress, let us arrive at a compromise. Instead of using the terminology of Federalism, there are other ways or terminology through which we could arrive at a satisfactory solution for the devolution of power for the provinces or regions. Rather than asking for more powers for the North-East region, it will be a better move to demand more powers for all the regions or provinces.

This will pave the way to remove suspicion or even fear among each other, and could motivate them to support the demands, resulting in both the sides working together towards a common goal. In order to make this approach work well, demonstrations and innovative slogans will be very effective, mainly to allay the fear of others, and also to bring about awareness among the people of this drastic change of attitude on all sides. We should promote group discussions among people of different religious and ethnic background. This kind of diplomacy is what any civic minded people should resort to in the interest of the entire country and its people.

The idea of   ‘we as opposed to them’ should be eliminated in our thinking. Instead, we should think in terms of victory not just for us, but for all of us. We   have to weaken the extremist elements in the south that are dreaming of coming back to power on a racist platform. Step by step, the majority of the Sinhalese will alienate these racist, power hungry politicians. Eventually, we could expect the progressive and friendly forces in the south and in the north will triumph and begin to emerge as a powerful group, and move forward successfully in their efforts to implement a suitable Constitution without any hurdles as such. In the end, racial elements shall wither away. If any ethnic group of people work only for their victory, all are doomed and shall fail, whereas, if we work for the victory of all ethnic groups our victory is assured. 

( Views expressed in this article are author’s own)

 

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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